Getting familiar with how your breasts look and feel can be extremely helpful in picking up on changes or any unusual signs. While a mammogram can help detect cancer, having gone through a cancer scare I would encourage adult women of all ages to perform breast self-examinations at least once a month. Statistics that my doctor shared with me during my consultation show that 40% of diagnosed breast cancer cases are detected by women who feel a lump on their breast before even going for a medical test.
Here are my five key learning’s on breast self-examination:
A breast self-examination test, also referred to as a BSE, is a screening technique women can do at home to check for breast lumps and unusual changes in their breasts. At first I wasn’t really sure of what I should be looking out for; I had told myself that the first sign of any lump would mean that my life was over!
Truth is, there is no specific symptom that can reliably diagnose breast cancer so don’t panic if you think you feel a lump. Most women have general lumps in some areas of their breasts. This is why it is extremely important to regularly check yourself or become aware of what feels “normal” for your body.
I’ve set a monthly reminder on my phone that goes off a few days after my menstrual cycle, when my breasts are least likely to be swollen and tender. Even if you’ve had a mastectomy you should still feel and examine your scar as breast cancer can reoccur. And if you no longer have menstrual cycles, pick a date to examine yourself and repeat this on the same date of every month.
There are two ways to examine yourself - I encourage you to do both.
- Hands on your hips in front of a mirror. Examine your breasts for the following:
- Lumps and changes in size/bulging/swelling on the breast and under your arm.
- Changes in skin texture such as dimpling /puckering, redness or rash.
- Unusual fluid coming out of a nipple or inverted/changed nipple position.
Lying down on your back: Using your right hand on your left breast and vice versa. Keep your fingers flat and together whilst moving in a firm, circular motion. For each breast work your way from top to bottom and side to side. It is important to include the armpits.
All abnormalities such as a discharge or skin changes should be investigated, but remember that 9 out of 10 of these abnormalities will not be cancer.
Seek advice from a medical professional at a clinic or hospital as soon as possible.
It is natural to be frightened but do not let the prospect of cancer keep you from taking action.
See this as an educational exercise for yourself - you can perhaps draw or take a picture of your breasts in order to record or map the findings of your monthly self-exams. This will be helpful in remembering what’s normal for you and tracing back on when the changes started to occur.
And remember, by educating yourself you will be able to educate others which could possibly save a life.